In 2008, Jack Ingram ’93 won the Academy of Country Music’s 'Best New Male Vocalist' award. The irony of Ingram’s “newness” was not lost on him or his fans, who had seen him rise to the top after years of struggle to record his music his way, on his terms since 1997, when he started belting out his hard-core country music in roadhouses all over Texas.
Ingram returns to the Hilltop this Saturday to lead the 2010 Homecoming Parade and to play a special concert during the pre-game Boulevard Homecoming festivities, and the SMU community is aglow with anticipation. We caught up with Ingram earlier this month to ask him about being a successful musician, a working parent and an artist who maintains his integrity and his own identity in an industry that pressures artists to write and record songs that sell.
Connections: In a recent comment posted on SMU's Facebook page, Scott Simeon, a former dorm mate of yours, claims to have been instrumental (pun partially intended) in having helped you launch your performing career by teaching you a few basic guitar chords. Is this true? And what's the first song you learned to play?
Jack Ingram: Yes, it’s true. Scott was kind enough to teach me a few chords, as was Scott McArtor…to the dismay and detriment of the rest of the Freshmen Quad! The noises coming from my room were not music to the ears of anybody but me those first few months. The first song I learned to play was from a Willie Nelson songbook, Greatest Hits (And Some That Will Be). I think I started with “I’d Have to be Crazy” or “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Connections: In your bio, you speak of being pigeonholed as "anti-establishment" when what you really felt you were doing was trying to find your own identity. What was it like to finally overcome the "Texas versus Nashville" mentality? Or do you still struggle with it?
JI: The “Texas versus Nashville” will always be a thing. It’s an argument for good reason — we do it very differently coming from Texas than the more structured route in Nashville. It’s a healthy thing that in the end makes for good entertainment and extremely talented folks doing their best to make great music, both down here and up there. I am lucky enough to be able to coexist in both realms. It is a great thing to work hard for something for a long time and finally see positive results both artistically and monetarily. I wouldn’t say I have “overcome” anything in this business — I have learned how to survive it!
Connections: In your song, "The Corner," you describe the heartbreak of trying to establish your career by being who you are and writing the music you want to write instead of churning out songs that record companies think will sell. Having no regrets now about being true to yourself, what would you tell yourself if you could share what you know now with the man/musician you were back then?
JI: If I could tell my younger self anything about this business and how to navigate it to get the best results, it would be to realize that NO ONE can take this career away from me. It’s not going to vanish into thin air over one song, one gig, one record or one anything! It’s a choice I made to follow this dream, and it’s the artist’s choice to give up the dream. The latter is really not an option, and I know that now.
Connections: You have a family with three small children. In what ways do you share the joys and frustrations that all working parents experience?
My family is the reason I do all of this. I share the same joys and frustrations as any parent. Like all parents who enjoy a bit of success with their jobs, I am much too aware of the amount of time it takes to make it happen — too much time away, too many missed Saturday sporting events (not the type you watch on tv!) and too many nights spent in hotels too far away. That’s what I get paid for — I play music for free!
Connections: Tell the truth — do you miss playing Adair’s?
JI: Hell yes, I miss playing Adair’s Saloon! I think about it every time I step on stage — that first gig at 2624 Commerce Street, getting paid in free beer and a cheeseburger. I was the richest kid in Dallas that night! That bar was, and remains now, my musical honky-tonk touchstone!